Martina Roe: About Otakar Batlička

Rubrika: Publicistika – Co je psáno...


Otakar Batlicka was already as a small boy very popular for his ability to tell stories. He never enjoyed school very much, but in his boys‘ gang everyone considered him to be a boss and eagerly listenend to his exciting stories, which he of course made all up.
Stories, which he collected on his journeys were, however often truthful. His travelling around the world started when he was only 14 years old after an argument with his biology professor, when he ran away from home. And so I wonder, how many 14 year olds today would be able to set off on such a journey. By that I do not mean to escape, anybody could manage that, but to find your way far away from home. And he managed all that and a month after he disappeared, his family in Prague received the following postcard: „ I have nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, I feel great.“ No wonder, that Batlicka’s stories became popular among youth because they were full of adventure, excitment, but also friendship and search for luck. 
My son received as a christening present a Bible for children. When I put this Bible next to the book of Otakar Batlička „On waves of courage and adventure“,  visually they nearly look the same. But they also have many other similarities. My son would like to dedicate himself one day to psychology and so I am thinking how these two books could help him with his studies. The events of these two books are seperated by nearly 2000 years but they have a lot in common – a willingness to destroy evil and to let good win, looking for belief, truth and love. People’s behaviour has not changed in those years. People are constantly laughing at the weak in the same way as they used to make jokes at Jesus. Otakar Batlička has passed through a hard school at the beginning of his travelling in America when he was still very young and inexperienced. Everyone considered him to be a gringo and let him do the hardest, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, till one day he managed to tame a wild horse, which even the most experienced leaders could not do. Since then men started to appreciate Otakar more. Batlička also describes nicely, how promotion can change people’s character for the worse. During the construction of the Ferro Caril tunnel in Central Argentina one of  Batlička’s co-workers has become a supervisor. Still as a worker he used to be friendly  but later he started to shout at everybody and made himself feel superior. He terorised his subordinates, did not grant them extra time for rest and risked lives because he did not allow to use long inflammable leads. Till one day he paid for his impatience, he forced everyone to go back to work  and himself ran out of shelter prematurely, he injured his leg and could not walk so the others had to bring him quickly into shelter before another explosion. The supervisor has realised, that workers have saved his life and how badly he treated them all. When his leg healed, he behaved again pleasantly, encouraged everybody , sometimes he even helped and cared more about safety.             
Otakar Batlička experienced truly a lot in America, he tried several jobs, but at the onset of the First World War, he had to return to his Austrian unit. Otakar happened to sail as a steersman on the boat Olaf under Norwegian flag, when a group of German officers climbed on board. As the only Austrian on board the Germans requested that the captain discharges him in order to start service in an Austrian army. The captain and Otakar both agreed, that as a member of the crew he would stay  till the end of the sail. A difficult fate awaited Olaf and its crew. Even though they managed to escape several dangers during the sail, when Olaf was only half an hour from its destination, it was spotted by the English and sunk. Otakar was the only one who was saved because he managed to swim in the icy Northern Sea. The freezing water caused him cramps, but he tried to calm himself by whispering to swim as if he was back at home in a swimming pool under the Vyšehrad rock.  And so England gained one captive who was sent to prison on the  Isle of Man. But soon one naturalist took fancy to him and Batlička became his assistant. He made good use of it during one visit to London and ran away. And so continued his wandering around the world, apart from America he visited Africa, Australia, China, Malaisia and Europe, he learned several languages – English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Northern languages and even an Indian language Guaranee.  
In the 1920’s he returned home where he again tried several jobs and he also started to write his stories. He became involved with radiotelegraphy and from the beginning of the thirties he organised even courses for youth. At the same time he also used to look after his nephew with his wife  – my father. It was a time of a big crisis and so my grandmother could not look after my dad, because she lost a job and her husband also died. My father always used to tell me, how his uncle taught him to box and was very pleased when he made progress. Till one day he unfortunately injured him, Batlička’s wound started to bleed and because he could not stand blood, my father had to pack his stuff and was sent to a monastery. This event from my father’s life reminds me of pirate stories, which I used to read with my sons when they were small. Despite the fact, that these kings of the sea were strong capable men, some of them hid this small weakness in them - because they could not look at blood. During the time of the Second World War Batlicka bravely joined an illegal antifascist movement as a telegrapher of the group Defence of nation East. In 1941 he was arrested by Gestapo, imprisoned in Pankrác and at concentration camps Terezín and Mauthausen, where he died in 1942, apparently while fleeing. As well as I know Batlička, I believe, that he even tried to escape while in  concentration camp, but was unlucky on this occasion. But after the war he was awarded a War Cross and a medal For Bravery (in memoriam).       
Stories by Otakar Batlička were  keenly read already since the time, when they started to be published in magazines for the young before the Second World War. They introduced readers with lifes of people in far away countries, but aslo with their culture, customs and way of dealing with things.  I also love to read them sometimes and let myself be carried by various adventures. Again I can see here, that in the same way as the Bible, Batlicka’s sotries can teach people a lot and lead them to good behaviour. There is therefore no wonder they were published regularly in the sixties and the seventies and even communist censorship has not stopped. I wanted to try out whether they would be accepted by today’s international readers. I have therefore translated some of the stories into English and published them on the Shvoong website. I gave them a different name according to the moral each one of these stories conveys. I was indeed surprised, that Batlicka’s work became quickly popular among international readers and some authors translated them even into other languages.           
And so I got the answer to my question, whether still today, hundred years after Batlička set off on his journey around the world, are his stories modern. He writes about an apparently simple world, without computers, expeditions into space or mobile phones. Why would today’s young people, who have so many other distractions, wanted to read Batlička? Perhaps because Otakar urges them to appreciate dignified heroism, help the weak, oppressed and persecuted or because the truth lead fight with lies, bravery fought cowardice, action stood against laziness. In any case the author pointed to the fact, that man can achieve his aim, but only through hard diligence and work. At the end as a boy he was only a trouble maker and nobody at that time would want to set him as an example, but he wanted and became a man who inspired whole generations of readers.  

Tento článek byl v Pozitivních novinách poprvé publikován 07. 04. 2009.